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Series Preview #3: D-backs vs Cardinals

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The Diamondbacks first road trip starts in the Midwest, where they’ll face a team that has Wild Card aspirations in 2018.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers
The Diamondbacks are avoiding Carlos Martinez this weekend.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks will begin their road trip with a 3-game series in St. Louis. Curiously enough, the team will have an off-day between the first and second game of the series instead of the Diamondbacks getting a travel day. The Cardinals will be playing their first series at home this season, so the Dbacks should be playing in front of a large crowd this weekend. On paper, the Diamondbacks are the better team but you have to play the game anyway.

Former Diamondbacks in St. Louis:

  • RH reliever Dominic Leone: Leone will be remember as the guy who poured gasoline on the fire when he pitched for the Diamondbacks, but he did recover to have a solid 2017 before getting traded to STL for Randal Grichuk. Leone had a solid first appearance, but end up blowing a save against the Brewers on Tuesday.

Cardinals Key Position Players:

  • LF Marcell Ozuna: Ozuna is the crown jewel of the Cardinals’ offseason, which the Cardinals paid 4 pitching prospects to land. Ozuna is a 5-tool defender in the corner OF that adds a lot of punch to their lineup. He’s started off a bit slow with a .222/.222/.278 line through 4 games, but we’ve seen what he’s capable of in the past.
  • CF Tommy Pham: Pham had a breakout year in 2017 after years of toiling in the minors with injuries. Pham brings an interesting mix of power and speed to the Cardinals lineup where he was a thorn in the Diamondbacks side last season. He’s off to a .286/.444/.286 start on the season.
  • SS Paul DeJong: DeJong came up last season and put a stranglehold on the shortstop position although he also played 2B and 3B. DeJong has poor strikeout and walk numbers from 2017, but he is arguably the Cardinals’ best power hitter outside of Ozuna. Make a mistake and he’ll tag them for homers.

Cardinals Injury Situation:

  • RH starter and top pitching prospect Alex Reyes is recovering from Tommy John surgery last April and isn’t ticketed to return until at least May.
  • LH Brett Cecil has an injury to his pitching shoulder and is out indefinitely.
  • RH reliever Luke Gregerson is out with an oblique injury and is unlikely to pitch in the series.
  • RH starter Adam Wainwright could make his season debut in this series
  • 3B Jedd Gyorko suffered a hamstring injury Monday against the Brewers and was placed on the 10-Day Disabled List on Tuesday.
  • RH reliever Greg Holland will not be available for the Cardinals for the series as they optioned him to their Class A Advanced affiliate in Palm Beach, FL to get some work in. Holland missed all of Spring Training waiting for a contract offer before signing a 1/$14M deal on Opening Day.

Starting Pitching Match-Ups:

Game 1: LHP Robbie Ray vs. RHP Michael Wacha. Ray is coming off one of his worst starts as a Diamondback, allowing 3 HR and 7 runs over 5 innings against the Rockies in a Dbacks 9-8 win. In addition he’ll be returning to the ballpark where he took a line drive off the side of the head and shelved him for most of August last season. He’ll be looking to bounce back against the Cardinals. Opposing him is Michael Wacha, who struggled against the Mets on Saturday. Wacha allowed 4 runs in 4 23 innings, taking the loss. Depending on which Ray shows up, the Dbacks could have the advantage in this match-up on the mound.

Game 2: Zack Greinke vs. Luke Weaver. Greinke struck out 9 and allowed only a solo HR to Charlie Blackmon over 5 23 impressive innings in his season debut. The concerns about Greinke’s ability to pitch with diminished velocity have been somewhat answered a bit with that start. Greinke should look to build on that outing. Opposing Greinke is Luke Weaver, who has 1 career start against the Dbacks and lost 4-0 to a J.D. Martinez opposite field Grand Slam in July 2017. In his only start of 2018, Weaver allowed 1 run in 5 innings despite allowing 5 hits and walking 3 while striking out 3.

Game 3: Taijuan Walker vs. Miles Mikolas. Walker had an ugly first inning against the Dodgers, but settled in to allow no more in innings 2-5. Ultimately he allowed 3 runs on 8 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 4. Miles Mikolas is the scheduled starter for the Cardinals. Mikolas allowed 4 runs in 5 23 innings with 5 strikeouts and no walks against the Brewers in a 8-4 win. It was Mikolas’ first start in the majors after two years in Japan.

How the Dbacks Can Win the Series:

The Diamondbacks managed to avoid Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez, which helps the pitching match-ups on paper. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, but more good than bad. The team will need to have quality starting pitching to be able to beat the Cardinals on the road. The Diamondbacks are sending their Top 2 pitchers against the Cardinals in the series plus Walker has had his moments at times. On paper that match-up favors Arizona, but the games aren’t pitched on paper.

The key will be getting to the Cardinals starters early and forcing them to go into their bullpen, which could end up being the Cardinals’ Achilles heel for the season. Gregerson, Cecil, and Holland are not available for the Cardinals for the series, which puts manager Mike Matheny in a bad bind in terms of managing his bullpen without his closer and top set-up guys. Getting into the bullpen early in the first game sets thing up nicely against a team that reaching deep into their minor league system for arms already.

The offense has been hit or miss from a run scoring perspective, but the early indication is the team isn’t giving away outs at the plate with an MLB best walk rate. The big key will be hitting with runners in scoring position considering there isn’t a lot of punch in the Diamondbacks lineup overall. Paul Goldschmidt has been sluggish with the bat in terms of getting hits although he’s been getting on base nearly half the time as teams just plain avoid pitching to him overall.

Prediction:

The Dbacks will have their challenges full playing in a hostile environment at Busch Stadium, but they are easily the superior team on paper. The Diamondbacks will be throwing their 1, 2, and 4 starters against the Cardinals 2, 3, and 4 guys. The Cardinals have the better lineup, but the Dbacks have superior pitching and especially with the bullpen. The Dbacks have a good shot at taking 2 of 3 and depending on how the team is able to execute with RISP could turn into a sweep.